December 13, 2012
Marc Bussanich

Thousands of union members from the building trades and private and public sector unions, as well as low-wage car wash, fast food and airport workers aspiring for union recognition marched through the commercial districts from Herald Square to Times Square on Thursday, December 6 to demand good jobs, higher wages and a fair deal on the fiscal cliff.

Billed as the “Build Up NYC” march and rally, the event was organized by several unions including 32BJ SEIU, RWDSU, the NYC District Council of Carpenters, as well as the city’s Central Labor Council and community organizations such as New York Communities for Change and UnitedNY. 

Fresh off momentum of fast food workers walking off their jobs at McDonalds and Wendy’s protesting low pay, the organizers said they called the action to highlight how the country’s wealthiest corporations are profiting handsomely after the financial crisis but are creating mostly low-paying jobs in the city and state.

Stuart Appelbaum, RWDSU’s president, said that he helped to organize the event to show the growing inequality in the city and country. “Today’s actions are a culmination of a broader movement because low-wage workers are tired of working long hours for little pay, no benefits and no respect. Too many people are struggling just to survive. It’s about time we take care of all people, and not just the privileged few.” He has noted on several occasions that the only way to revitalize the tepid economy is through a wage-led recovery.

“We need a wage-led recovery in New York and in this country. Census data and recent reports show that poverty in New York is on the rise for the third straight year, with 74,000 New Yorkers falling into poverty last year alone,” said Appelbaum.

Other union leaders noted that low-wage workers deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Showing their support for the day’s action, elected officials also echoed that need.

“Low wage workers deserve the same treatment just as every worker in every single trade,” said State Senator Gustavo Rivera.

He pointed to the work he and his Democratic colleagues completed in the Senate last year as an example for Washington to pursue to prevent from going off the fiscal cliff, which could mean a loss of almost $800 million to city agencies that provide social services.

“We fought extremely hard to extend the personal income tax surcharge, also known as the millionaire’s tax, on wealthy New Yorkers. We advocated for that because it’s not just the fair thing to do but is also the most stimulative thing we can do for the economy. Cutting taxes for the wealthy doesn’t create jobs,” said Rivera.

Hector Figueroa, 32BJ SEIU’s President, also noted that the Democrats and Republicans need to come to their senses to avoid applying additional pain on working families, especially after Hurricane Sandy.
“Too many people are hurting in Rockaway, Coney Island, Staten Island and Manhattan Beach. We have 1,000 members in the Rockaways and the conditions they’ve been living in shouldn’t be happening in this country. Our members are doing what they can to rebuild, but we can’t do it alone. We need the federal money to bring our city back,” said Figueroa.
Vinny Alvarez, President of the NYC Central Labor Council, said he was thrilled to see building trades and low-wage workers joining en masse.

“There’s a struggle right now in our nation’s capital, and it’s so important that we protect what we have fought for and gained over the years—Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. We have to build the economy from the bottom up, and making sure the wealthiest are paying their fair share to contribute to the economic well-being of America.”

Bill and Alfonzo, both District Council of Carpenters members who did not want to provide their surnames, said that the growing non-union work in their industry is troubling. “There was plenty of work when I started in the industry in the 1980s, but now we’re worried about our future and union,” said Bill. Alfonzo has been working as a carpenter for the past 22 years, but is having difficulty working five days a week because more work is being done by non-union labor.

“I’m not opposed to the non-union guys, but it’s frustrating when a company owner bids for union work only to hire guys late at night at $10.00 an hour.”

On the fiscal cliff, he’s in favor of higher-income people paying higher taxes.

“I can barely pay my bills. People with millions should be taxed higher; working people can’t pay all the taxes.”


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